Wes Craven is a revered name in the horror industry. One cannot run down a list of the greatest horror films of all time without at least mentioning A Nightmare on Elm Street. But the nasty little secret about Wes Craven is that apart from that spark of competence he is one of the most overrated directors of our time. The man has no grasp of performance storytelling or cinematography and has limped along since A Nightmare on Elm Street traded upon his own name. The only other rays of light in his otherwise bleak filmography are A New Nightmare and Scream. But the appeal of both of those films is how self-aware and referential they are not only to other better horror films but again Craven’s own work!
So sitting down to view his newest film My Soul to Take I was skeptical but as always hoping that Wes would prove me wrong. He did not. Take note of the title of this film and remember it well. Why? Because it will more than likely disappear from theaters in two weeks' time and it will undoubtedly grace innumerable year-end Worst of 2010 lists.
The “story” revolves around a serial killer who dies and manages to parcel out his seven scattered personalities (or souls I suppose) into the bodies of newborns. Sixteen years later those newborns are nubile teenagers who — you guessed it — get murdered because of this shaky connection to what has since become the town boogeyman.
How best to adequately chart the failures of this film? I honestly don't know where to begin. The cast true to Craven’s impeccable lack of a nose for talent is populated with some truly terrible young actors. Their line deliveries are flat and undisciplined and it becomes impossible to sympathize with a single one of them. To their credit these actors are done no favors by Craven’s hallmark dialogue which again is painfully weak and reflects his steadily waning comprehension of youth culture. Characters spit out nonsense that is so awful you can never tell if it’s a joke or if Craven is actually going senile. The dialogue from the killer is especially bad which is fitting considering that Craven has ruined many a film by letting characters who should be silent spew forth unbearable babble (see the cops in Last House on the Left or the mutants in The Hills Have Eyes for reference).
This story is among the most lackluster of Craven’s already unimpressive catalogue. From start to finish nothing makes sense nothing fits and all must be explained through exposition machines because none of what we’re told is supported by a single preceding frame. If you want to run down basic writing faux pas made by the supposedly seasoned veteran Craven how about the scene in which he goes down the line pointing at each teen and introducing them by name in a hackneyed thinly veiled device. It’s as if he’s lazily saying “Victim 1 Victim 2 Victim 3 ...” — which is appropriate as this is the most he bothers to develop them. The whole "soul" aspect of the film arguably its biggest draw goes completely unvisited until the very end when it becomes so convoluted and shoehorned that it no longer seems integral to the film at all.
And beyond all of this the film is savagely tedious. When examining the dialogue the exaggerated — to a comic extent — high school experiences of the characters and the after-school-special themes Craven appears to be making a film aimed at 13-year-olds forgetting that he’s actually making an R-rated slasher flick. His complete lack of vision may also explain why this R-rated slasher film features not one good kill which furthers the tedium. The 3D is so under-utilized that were it not for the fact that the screen would be rendered hopelessly blurry I would advocate removing the glasses entirely.
It also feels so wantonly rehashed to the point that I’m not convinced this wasn’t originally a script for another Nightmare on Elm Street sequel Craven had lying around for years. The meagerness of the characterizations the sloppiness of the plot the serial-killer trauma involving children and even the voice of the villain all ring familiar in a way that bothers me and makes me think Craven was simply hurting for a paycheck when he slapped together this insult to horror fans. Being that its titular plot element is deceptively absent perhaps Craven would consider renaming the film My Time to Waste.